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Filibuster sleepover Because the Senate requires 60 votes to end debate on a bill, senators in the minority party can talk endlessly as a delaying tactic. Occasionally, these filibusters have lasted days or even weeks, and senators have snoozed on cots during all-night speeches.

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Should the Filibuster Be Eliminated?

You’ve probably heard the phrase “The majority rules!” a million times—in the classroom, at the dinner table, on a movie night with friends. But the U.S. Senate requires more than a majority—60 votes out of 100—to end debate on most legislation. This has allowed the party in the minority to hold up, or filibuster, a bill to keep it from coming up for a simple majority vote. To some, it’s an important Senate tradition that helps keep the majority party in check; to others, it’s a key reason for the gridlock in Washington. In 2013, Senate Democrats abolished the filibuster for all judicial appointments—except for appointments to the Supreme Court. Four years later, Senate Republicans did away with the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations as well. Now some Democrats want to eliminate it altogether. The current Senate majority leader and a former Senate majority leader face off on whether this is a good idea for American democracy.

The Senate was designed to serve as the slower, more deliberative body of the U.S. Congress. But what’s happening today is a far cry from what the Framers intended, and that’s because of a procedural rule known as the filibuster.

Not part of the Framers’ original vision, the filibuster was created in 1917. The recent abuse of the filibuster rule means that virtually all Senate business requires 60 of the 100 senators’ votes to proceed. This means a simple majority isn’t enough to advance even the most bipartisan legislation. The result has been gridlock.

The Senate is now a place where the most pressing issues facing our country are ignored, along with the will of the American people overwhelmingly calling for action.

Something must change. That’s why I’m now calling on the Senate to abolish the filibuster in all its forms.

It’s time to allow a simple majority vote instead of the 60-vote threshold now required. When the American people demand change and elect a new Senate, a new majority leader must be able to respond to that call and pass legislation.

Abuse of the filibuster rule has resulted in gridlock in the Senate.
—Harry Reid

Perisha Gates/ZUMAPRESS.com/Newscom

The list of issues stalled by the Senate filibuster is enormous—and still growing: a plan to address climate change, immigration reform, gun control measures, and many more. If the Senate cannot address the most important issues of our time, then it is time for the chamber itself to change, as it has done in the past.

I didn’t come to this decision lightly. For 100 years, the filibuster was a symbol of the Senate’s famed role as “the world’s greatest deliberative body,” a place where collegiality and compromise held sway and issues could be discussed rationally and agreements could be reached. The 60-vote requirement reflected these ideals. Sadly, we’re not now living in the same legislative world.

The Senate is a living body, and to survive, it must change—as it has throughout our history. The American people elect leaders to address the issues facing our country, and the filibuster has made it impossible for Congress to do that.


—FORMER SENATOR HARRY REID

Democrat of Nevada and Former Majority Leader

The current proposal to eliminate the legislative filibuster—the 60-vote requirement to end debate on legislation and move it to a vote—is a direct assault on some of the Senate’s most fundamental traditions.

The Senate was designed to work differently than the House of Representatives. One of the Senate’s central purposes is making new laws earn broader support than what is required for a bare majority in the House.

The legislative filibuster does not appear in the Constitution’s text, but it’s a direct descendant of our founding tradition. It echoes James Madison’s explanation in the Federalist Papers that the Senate is designed not to rubber-stamp House bills but to act as an “additional impediment” and “complicated check” on “improper acts of legislation.” The filibuster embodies Thomas Jefferson’s principle that “great innovations should not be forced on slender majorities.” In other words, major laws with lots of real-world consequences for Americans shouldn’t be passed without broad support.

The filibuster embodies the founding principles of the Senate.

—Mitch McConnell

Yes, the Senate’s design makes it difficult for one party to enact sweeping legislation on its own. Yes, the filibuster makes policy less likely to seesaw wildly with every election. These are intentional features of the Senate’s design, not bugs to be worked out.

I recognize it may seem odd that a Senate majority leader opposes a proposal to increase his own power. But my Republican colleagues and I will not vandalize this core tradition for short-term gain. Besides, we recognize what everyone should recognize—there are no permanent victories in politics. Political winds often shift, and those of us in the majority today might be in the minority tomorrow.

Strong provisions to protect minority rights have always been the Senate’s distinguishing feature. And if we eliminate the filibuster altogether,
we’ll have lost a key safeguard of American government.


—SENATOR MITCH McCONNELL

Republican of Kentucky and Senate Majority Leader

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